House of Commons Library

Online pornography: age verification

Published Friday, June 21, 2019

This Library Briefing Paper looks at the introduction of age verification for online pornography.

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Age verification (AV) for access to online pornography was due to come into force from 15 July 2019. However, on 20 June 2019, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced that there would be a delay of around six months. This was because the Government hadn't notified the European Commission about guidance on AV arrangements.

The Government's aim in introducing AV is to protect children from “distressing or unrealistic images of sex” that could harm their emotional or psychological development.

There will be a variety of AV options, including the use of credit cards, passports, or mobile phones. It will also be possible to use digital IDs or buy a card in a shop where verification is face to face.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 and the BBFC’s role

The framework for AV is set out in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. Section 14(1) requires commercial providers of online pornography to have AV arrangements in place to make sure that users are aged 18 or over.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is the Age-Verification Regulator, with responsibility for determining whether an AV arrangement complies with the Act. If the BBFC finds that a commercial provider is non-compliant, it can, among other things:

  • notify ancillary service providers and payment-services providers;
  • direct ISPs to block access to the material being made available.

BBFC guidance (October 2018) gives detailed information on its role.

Comment

Although the introduction of AV has been welcomed by organisations working to protect children, critics have raised concerns about:

  • data security and privacy;
  • freedom of expression;
  • avoiding AV by using virtual private networks (VPNs) or the dark web.

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8551

Author: John Woodhouse

Topics: Information technology, Internet and cybercrime, Media

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